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Civil War History 47.1 (2001) 88-89

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Book Review

This Cruel War:
The Civil War Letters of Grant and Malinda Taylor, 1862-1865

This Cruel War: The Civil War Letters of Grant and Malinda Taylor, 1862-1865. Edited by Ann K. Bloomquist and Robert A. Taylor. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2000. Pp. xiv, 348. $32.95.).

Scholars will find much of value in this well annotated collection of more than 160 Civil War letters edited by Ann K. Bloomquist, a descendant of Grant and Malinda Taylor, and a non-descendant, Robert A. Taylor, history professor at the Florida Institute of Technology. A large portion of the correspondence consists of letters from Pvt. Grant Taylor of the 40th Alabama regiment to his wife. Also included are thirty-two letters from Malinda to her husband.

Grant Taylor joined the "rebel" army in 1862 after Confederate officials allowed for the drafting of white civilians. The thirty-four-year old Taylor was married at the time, had four children, and owned no slaves. Like many white Southerners, who had yet to join the Confederate army when the conscription law went into effect, he felt the pressure to enlist to avoid the public censure associated with becoming a conscript.

Taylor saw combat in many major engagements, including the struggle to defend Vicksburg, the battles of Tennessee's Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, the Atlanta campaign, and operations around Mobile, Alabama. He occasionally narrated the events that unfolded during the fighting in the letters to his wife, but he devoted more attention to other matters--life in camp, his own physical condition, and his concern for Malinda and their children. Intense affection for his family shines through the correspondence. He and his wife also expressed deep religious convictions in letters to each other.

Their Christian faith served as a source of strength as they suffered through a separation that exacted a heavy emotional toll on both husband and wife. Malinda, however, bore up well under the strain of managing family matters and caring for her youngsters without her husband. She even seemed to grow stronger from the ordeal. Scholars interested in women's history and life on the Confederate home front would do well to consult her letters.

While concern for loved ones at home and descriptions of camp and combat are not unusual in Civil War soldiers' correspondence, a few of the letters of the Taylors go beyond the ordinary. In a May 1862 note, for example, Malinda informed her husband that while some men living close to her were going to war, at least two went to great lengths to remain at home. One man, she explained, "shot off his little finger to keep from going" while another "shot off 2" (14-15). In October 1863, Taylor provided this description of Confederate president Jefferson Davis after spotting the president touring the camp with two generals. "He does not look to be anything extra," he wrote, "similar to a smoke dried herring. (186)"

Taylor also expressed strong opposition to the use of black troops in a letter written in the closing months of the war. Desperate for greater manpower, the Confederate Congress in the spring of 1865 had approved mustering African Americans into the military. Had Confederate troops won the war, the black soldiers would [End Page 88] have been emancipated from slavery, according to the plan of Confederate officials. Taylor dubbed the plan "outrageous" (323), and he ruminated over the irony of freeing blacks for the purpose of fighting in order to protect slavery. Interestingly, Civil War enthusiasts who claim that "states rights," not slavery, rested at the heart of the conflict may be perplexed to find that Taylor disagreed with them. He explicitly wrote that "we have been fighting four years to prevent the slaves from being freed" (322-23).

In the introduction, the editors included two photographs of Grant and Malinda Taylor as well as several maps of areas in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia in which Taylor fought. A short epilogue provides information...


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